Like the "Good Food" sign over a favorite neighborhood eatery, there could be a sign over Languedoc reading "Good Wine."
Languedoc (LANG-gweh-DOC) spans France's south shore from the Pyrenees Mountains to the city of Nimes (birthplace of the fabric serge de Nimes, today's denim.)
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Ross' choice"Cuvee Classique" Rouge
Chateau Ollieux Romanis
Ÿ Suggested retail and availability: About $13 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Robert Houde Wines, Bensenville)
The blend (cuvee) of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah grapes is a south-of-France tradition, but the "Classique" on the label implies no oak aging. This ripe, supple red has a flavor profile between the meatiness of Cotes du Rhone and the fruitiness of Beaujolais that results in a mouth-coating cocktail. Sip it with the grilled sausages (saucisse de Toulouse or bratwurst), meats (wild boar or spare ribs) and stews (cassoulet and chili) of Languedoc and Chicago.
Grapes are washed in Mediterranean sunshine and cooled by the breeze, many vineyards within sight of the sea. Optimal climate and centuries of winegrowing led Languedoc to become the world's largest wine producer, first filling the shelves of France's super-marche's, then the planet's with well-made values like Les Jamelles Pinot Noir (a vibrant and silky red), Capucines Rouges (firm and chewy) or Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet (a mouthwatering and refreshing white), all about $10.
In 2007, Languedoc took a giant step toward improving quality. Small, family properties established regional quality-control measures to curb overproduction protect tradition and reward expression of unique vineyard flavors. Each year, Languedoc's whites, reds and roses will be judged by a consortium of elected officials and wine growers; labels of the 2011 vintage (the first year subject to the rules) will bear the terms "Grand Vin" and "Grand Cru du Languedoc" to guide consumers.
Until then, your retailer, sommelier and this column can recommend favored examples from the excellent 2009 vintage just arriving to our market including Chateau Ollieux Romanis (see Ross' choice) and:
Chateau Karantes Rose (Grand Cru, about $14): Bone dry with strawberry, apple and spice flavors for rich finger food such as tapenade and cured meats.
Chateau de Paraza "Cuvee Special" (Grands Vin, about $12): A chewy red with ripe blueberry and spice flavors and plush finish, great for burgers.
Chateau Sainte Eulalie, "La Cantilene" (Grand Cru, about $20): Deep and leathery, developing pepper and coffee accents and a long tannic finish for grilled meats and sausages.
• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.